Occupational Therapy- James River Part II
I just finished up my second event at the James River, this time a B.A.S.S. Northern Open. I worte about the James River in my last blog where I competed in the FLW Walmart Rayovac series where I finished 77th out of 98 competitors. If you missed that story you can read it at http://chrisflintfishing.com/blog/pants-or-shorts-2015-james-river-rayovac-event/
My finish at the Rayovac event left me with mixed emotions, would I be able to compete at that level, on that tidal fishery or would I even figure out how to catch fish during the hot summer days? Tidal bass fishing can be a tricky deal and then add the level of competition that would be arriving for the B.A.S.S. Open with B.A.S.S. Elite names like Mike Iaconelli and Boyd Duckett my nerves were already somewhat rattled and I have not even arrived for practice.
My wife Jen and two dogs Garrett and Georgia arrived the week before the 4th of July giving me plenty of practice time in order to learn more about the fishery. We stayed at the Rockahock campground
a beautiful campground located on the Chickahominy River a tributary of the James River. We chose this location knowing that at the last event the winning fish came out of this tributary and it would let me launch right there and spend plenty of time where I thought I would need to be. Little did I know things in the tournament fishing never go as planned.
My day one of practice started with a sunny hot, and do I mean hot, Virginia day with temperatures reaching the mid 90s! I started in the back of a small creek and began working several patterns of wood and grass. It was a typical tidal bite with periods of several bites to hours of nothing. I was pleased with what I had located withing the first four hours of practice there catching some quality 2-3 pound fish but limited numbers of fish. As the tide changed I decided it was time to leave and started my slow idle out of the creek which was about 5 miles of areas which had no wake zones so it does take some time to get back out of these areas. I had made it about two miles out when all of the sudden my big motor quit. I was unable to figure out the problem and new I needed service on the motor. A look at the map showed the nearest boat launch was about three miles away and with no boats in sight I new it was going to be a long day. I called Jen and gave her directions to the launch and where to pick me up. I dropped the trolling motor in and started that way. To my luck, Flint Luck, I also had the wind in my face and an incoming tide which slowed my speed down to a blistering 2.1 miles per hour! It took me a little over three hours to arrive at the launch and I can tell you one thing that was plenty of time to mentally beat myself up. By the time I had arrived I had cleared my head and told myself these things happen and need to be dealt with and move forward. We located a great service station Richmond Marine Center
these people were amazing how well they treated us. They stayed over late to figure out what the problem was in an attempt to get me back on the water as soon as possible. Being a tournament angler your biggest fear is having days of downtime while waiting for your boat to get fixed. Unfortunately the part I needed was in Atlanta and would need to be overnight shipped and this was going to put me out of service for at least two days. With nothing more that could be done at that time I left the boat and headed back to the campground to enjoy a few days of sitting by the campfire and relaxing.
As it turns out, some of the greatest things we get to experience on the road in our adventures is the people we get to meet. While sitting outside we saw a couple pull in and set up camp and they had a Weimaraner, similar breed to ours, then we see another dog, a German Shorthaired Pointer. For anyone who has never owned these breeds of dog I can tell you one thing that is common, the owners are unique and special people who have a personality much like the breed. They are always fun, energetic and great to be around so we went over and introduced ourselves. We quickly hit it off with the couple and sat by the fire into the early morning hours telling stories and getting to know each other. Every event that I fish I always try to learn something new and take something with me that can make me a better angler and better person in life, this meeting would prove to be just that. As we conversed with the couple we spoke of our jobs and Brooke stated she was an occupational therapist. To me it sounded interesting although I had no idea what it meant. When I asked exactly what she did she replied to me that "OT is in the business of helping people maintain the highest quality of life as independently as possible by restoring lost skills, adapting (upgrading and downgrading) to environments/people/support systems and compensating throughout a challenge as needed to achieve your goal! "
. WOW, for me that statement hit home and I felt it directly applied to what I do every day and it would prove to make a turning point in the outcome of my event.
Fast forward to July 3rd my boat is done and the great people at Richmond Marine center stayed late on a Friday night in order to get me going and back in service for the weekend. I started practice again on the 4th and the day quickly came and went with only three bites and me not even landing a fish. I spent the next two days fishing in the Chickahominy river where I caught plenty of good fish during my practice period at the last event. Each day proved what seemed to be wasted with only a few bites per day and fish that were far from the winning caliber. As I ate dinner I knew time was running out and I needed to figure something out if I was going to improve for this event. I thought back to what Brooke said to me and it clicked. My purposeful activity was obviously not what I have been doing the last three days. What was I going to do to change it in order to improve on what my expectations were? My decision? Abandon everything I had done? maybe go fish brand new water that I had never seen and start over?
I started the next morning wandering about the mid section of the James river like a lost child at a fair. Stopping here, going there looking for things that might work. The deck of my boat looked like a sale bin at Bass Pro Shop with lures strung about as I threw everything I could think of in an attempt to get a bite. The whole time saying to myself I can make things happen if I work hard enough. Eventually I picked up a spinnerbait and made a cast to a laydown on the bank as I began to crank down winding the bait back my rod loaded up and I felt the immediate shake of a large fish. After days of fishing with no bites my heart raced as if I had just won the lottery. After a few minutes I landed the fish and quickly became disappointed a large blue catfish had fooled me into thinking I had started to figure something out. I released the slimy critter and sat down to re-tie my bait and clean the slime off my line. As I thought to myself I will never find a bass something immediately made sense. This was the first aggressive bite I have had in days, this fish was there for a reason although not the right species it did mean that it was a section of water that held fish. I decided to buckle down and find bass living in that section of water. My motivation and mindset turned fruitful as in the next ten minutes I put a limit of good bass into the boat.
Tuesday came which meant I was only one and a half practice days away from event time and I did not have near enough fish to do well so I still had plenty of work to do. The interesting thing about tidal fishing is some areas or small feeder creeks you attempt to fish are often impassable at low tide so timing is everything. I made my way back into one of the small creeks at high tide that line the James river. I had a burning feeling if I could get to the very back of one of these creeks I could find a few key fish I needed to get my limit where I needed it to cash a check. As I idled and worked my way back I would often become stuck on mud flats having to force my way out with the big motor and try to find small depressions in order to get further back in the narrow creeks. This is a tricky game because if you do not pay attention to when the tide drops you could be sitting in a creek for the next six hours until the tide comes back in. As I pushed my way back I overheated my motor and it shut down. I fished my way in further on the trolling motor while the big motor cooled to recover. Again I started the motor up trying to sneak my way into what I hoped would be a secret honey hole only to have my motor overheat and shut down again. At that point I decided that was it I was going to fish my way back out. I covered a bunch of unproductive water until I turned a corner on a small shallow grass flat. The toss of a frog and a good three pound bass ate it. My next three cast proved to be the same. It appeared to be a great spot but I knew still I did not have enough fish to get me through the event. I started to idle out of the creek in search of a few more areas when the unthinkable happened the motor shut down and this time I could tell it was not an overheat because the alarm did not sound. I ran through my normal checklist of things in attempt to get it going with no results. It was time to call search and rescue and Jen was again on route to pick me up at the nearest launch. This time I was fortunate enough to have the wind at my back and an outgoing tide which had me cruising at a whopping 3.1 mph this time. Today appeared to be my lucky day as another angler came along and offered me a tow cutting my time to the launch to just 45 minutes. The unlucky part was I had both sets of keys to the the truck which meant Jen had to drive 30 minutes to get them and then 30 minutes back to get the truck and trailer. We ended up getting to the Bass Service crew in the late afternoon wasting about 5 hours of crucial fishing time. A minor motor glitch and the service crews had me up and running in about 30 minutes. By this time it was pushing 5 pm and the tide was coming back in. I told Jen I had to get back on the water until in an attempt to try and salvage this event.
I hit the water again with about 3 hours to fish, my practice time and decision making at this point would be crucial in me doing well. I needed to find something else. So where to? Sometimes in life it always pays to go with your instinct even though to you it does not make any sense. My decision was to go right back to the same creek where I had broke down. The reasoning I had was the water was now high and I was going to make a trail into the back of that creek that I could run on plane at 60 mph. This would save me time in the event and give me the opportunity to fish more water during tournament time. The downfall was if I did not plot the right route with the map and GPS I would likely destroy my lower unit. Most of the water you are running through on these tidal flats and small creeks are 3 feet when the tide is full, now add submerged logs, sunken barges and crab traps into that a little luck would certainly be nice, and not the usually Flint Luck. I made my way back into the creek and pushed on again this time luck seemed to be on my side as I had passed all the locations where my motor had overheated and was into the skinny part of the creek when I saw an intersection where two other small feeder creeks met with the main creek. This looked right and I dropped the trolling motor and started fishing. With about an hour of daylight my frog crashes onto the silent water only to be disturbed by a load splash of a three pound large-mouth. I removed the hook and so not to catch anymore and my next several cast resulted in fish blowing up on the frog. As darkness started to fall I slowly made my way out of the creek in order to double check my route to make sure I had created a safe route which I thought I could run on plane.
On Wednesday I only have a half day of pre-fishing and then event registration and meetings. I hit the water with the purpose of checking the location where I had caught a limit of fish earlier in the week. A check of the area just to make sure my fish were there and that I would get a bite. I pulled in and eased up on the outside of the location where I had caught fish and the first cast I got bit. That was a confidence builder and I left the area in search of hopefully one other location that would produce fish. That time came and went with no results.
Overall I summed up my practice period as far worse that the first event I had fished. I estimated each day I could get six to eight bites. That is not a whole lot considering I have a co-angler who has a chance of taking some of those bites. I also estimated if I fished clean, landed fish I was on about 10-12 pounds that I could catch each day. I new from the fishing conditions and talk among other anglers that the weight would be enough to get me a good check. With a lucky bite I could even make the cut. My baits of choice at that time were a white spinnerbait with gold colarado blades, a white horny toad and a Eco Pro Tungsten Swing Jig
Tournament morning came and I was boat 89 out of 193 boats. Which means you sit and watch a lot of boats leave wondering if they were going to hit one of my limited fishing areas before I even got there. I arrived at my first location along with another boat. As I fished through the area no bites came. I felt the overwhelming feeling of here we go again. At that point I stopped myself and remembered what Brooke said. I needed to adapt to my environment to overcome what was happening at that moment. I stopped, opened up my tackle box and looked, I grabbed a bait I had not thrown all week but it just felt right. An UNFAIR Lure KaBOOM
which is a topwater pop R style bait. I tied it up and on my second cast a three pound fish boiled up and was quickly in my livewell. I went about another hour with no fish activity and the other boat had come and gone. I was thinking it was time to go but I also knew I did not have enough fish in other places to catch a limit especially if other people were there. I told myself one more from here and I can go, I have to make it happen. Thirty minutes later I landed that fish on a spinnerbait. I felt at that moment I was in control of what my outcome would be in this event because of my mindset. I just needed to stay focused and make my outcome what I wanted it to be.
It was time to head for the creek. A fifteen minute drive and I approached the tidal flat and it was time to test that route. I am not going to lie there was a little pucker factor going there as I crossed onto the flat at 60 mph and my depth finder was reading 2.5 feet. My route proved correct as I shut down in the back of the creek and was excited to see no one else there. I fished hard on that back creek intersection without a bite. The game was starting over again as I started to second guess myself and my decisions. I looked at the main creek and a bend that was even further back and debated should I try to go fish the unknown or move back out to my one final spot in hopes to catch them. I went with what I felt was safe and moved to my last grass flat which was mid creek. As I pulled up I knew I needed three more fish here, the flat was about 50 yards by 20 yards so there was not a lot of water to fish. I quickly landed a small keeper and now had three. Another hour passed back and fourth up that small weedline, baits pounding it over and over in hopes of one more bite. I had one other spot North near the boat launch that I had caught one three pound fish and that was it if this place did not produce. As I had about an hour left the bite came a large blow up on the water a set the hook hard and could tell this was the one I needed. The fish dove hard into the grass as I leaned back to try to keep it up my line went slack. Gone... the line had cut as if someone took scissors to it. I never felt defeat it was a condition that was dealt to me and I had to keep going. I needed one more fish and I knew where to catch it. I packed up and headed North.
I arrived at my final spot with 45 minutes left to fish. I had caught a 3 pound fish here on a specific piece of deep structure. I even could recognize this fish if I caught it again because of the big black spot on its back. I dropped my lure on the spot and nothing. Again, nothing. I threw from every angle over and over trying to make this happen. Five minutes left and it was time to go as I started to pull away from the spot my co-angler yells I got one! As I see the fish surface I recognize it with the big black spot. It was time to go and that fish was not meant for me. I returned to weigh in with 3 fish weighing in at 5 pounds and one ounce. This had me sitting in 136th place. I could not say I was disappointed I had my chances and things pretty much played out as I expected with the exception that I did not land the fish that I was expecting to land.
As I tried to come up with a new game plan for day two I knew I needed to go out fish the moment and make things happen. Day two started and I decided to fish my spots in reverse to see if the bite would be different and at that point I had nothing to lose. I arrived at my creek and the location where I had broke off the big one the previous day. My co-angler makes the first cast with a Pop-R topwater bait and gets a fish right away. I throw the frog a few times and nothing seems to be working as my co-angler gets another strike but misses. Day one my big fish came on the KaBoom. I decided to tied it back on and second cast I put one in the live well. I moved to the very back of the creek where the day before I never had a bite. A few cast later a big one eats and I put a three pound fish in the livewell. We worked that small area for another half hour and I keep looking at that bend in the main creek I could never get back to. I start trying to make my way over to it and finally take the right path and drop into deeper water. My co-angler makes a cast and lands a fish. My mindset now tells me I am going to make this happen right here, right now. My next cast produces a fish and then another and another. The momentum is building and so is my confidence as we push further back in the creek. I have a decent limit and keep telling myself just one big bite. There is a zone you can get into once in awhile and when it happens its unexplainable. Every pop of that topwater I could see the small droplets of water splashing, every twitch that lure made I could feel . I know right then it is going to happen and it does, the topwater explosion every bass angler hopes to see and hear. When it happens there is no doubt you are hooked up with a game changer! I landed that fish which was just under five pounds. The determination to make things keep happening at that point is unstoppable. We fished the next few hours in there and I caught several more fish but I was unable to upgrade on weight. I made the decision to leave and just run new water in hopes of getting rid of a small one pound fish that I had.
We ran new water for the next several hours with no results. I decided it was time to head North and finish up the day. I knew at that point I had probably gained enough to almost get back in check range I just needed to cull once more. Once I got North I ran spots where I caught a few fish but nothing that I thought would actually help me. My mind raced what could I do to fix it? I told my co-angler I am going to pick a good looking section of the bank put the trolling motor down and fish straight through for as long as we can. I did just that and we had about an hour and a half left before weigh in. Cast after cast producing nothing. Doubt would set in, then I would tell my focus make it happen. Cast after cast and still nothing, the clock is ticking. Ten minutes left and I am thinking it could be any one of these casts and if it was meant to be I had to stay ready. I can still picture it, I tell myself a long random cast right out in the middle of the river because nothing else is working. I fire away and my lure splashes down, before I even grab the handle to start reeling the sound of water breaking. I set the hook and see a three pound fish jump and then jump again. My heart races with fear as I hope to land the fish. A few seconds later its at the boat and quickly picked up! Now if you have never seen two grown men who are complete strangers scream and hug like little kids I can tell you it happened right at that moment. That is one thing about this sport is each angler understands, you get to see and feel each others defeats and accomplishments and maybe that's what makes this sport so great.
Weigh in time, regardless of where I end up I put into a plan of action that I was proud of. I dropped my fish on the scales for a five fish limit of 14 pounds! That weight gave me the 5th heaviest bag of the day. It also moved me up from 136th to 52nd overall. I received the AllState Good hands award for the biggest comeback of the event and $250 in cash. Reflecting back on that event it was not the lure choices I made or the practice that I had it was a chance encounter. A breakdown of my boat which left me onshore for a night where I met two great people who taught me something over a conversation at a campfire. So take every day with what it gives you as you never know when that chance encounter might turn into a memory which will never be forgotten.
Don't chase your dreams......catch them!!!